Barbs flew over a Rajasthan palace on Monday as the Congress accused chief minister Vasundhara Raje of illegally occupying a “public property” and converting it into a hotel with Lalit Modi’s money, prompting a BJP riposte that it’s a private estate.
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh said Dholpur Palace, 42km from Agra, was owned by the Rajasthan government but Raje and former IPL chief Lalit Modi turned it into a high-end hotel through Niyant Heritage Hotel Private Limited, where the duo has stakes.
“In 1977, Dholpur Palace was made a government property …. Shockingly, they have constructed this hotel on property and land owned by the government of Rajasthan. They have invested a huge amount, running into crores of rupees,” he said.
The Congress said land records of 1977 as well as those from 2010 show the palace as public property.
The BJP’s Rajasthan unit challenged Ramesh to prove his allegations, saying it has enough documents to establish that the palace belonged to Raje’s son, Dushyant Singh.
“Government orders since 1957 say the legal heir of the palace was Hemant Singh, father of Dushyant and the erstwhile ruler of Dholpur. Then in 2010, the government paid Dushyant over Rs 1.97 crore in compensation for acquiring palace land for a highway. Why did the Congress government of the time pay Dushyant if the property didn’t belong to him?” state party chief Ashok Parnami asked in Jaipur.
Congress leader Ramesh cited remarks made by the chief minister’s estranged husband and Dushyant’s father before a court that the red sandstone mansion with sprawling lawns — also known as Raj Niwas Palace — belonged to the Rajasthan government.
The court affidavit of Hemant Singh in an inter-party litigation in 1980 said the palace was “declared as owned by government” after the merger of Dholpur Riyasat.
The Congress came out with Raje’s submission in her 2013 assembly poll affidavit of having shares of Niyant Heritage Hotel along with Dushyant, daughter-in-law Niharika and Lalit Modi, who is facing cases of alleged tax fraud and money laundering in India.
Calling Ramesh’s allegations baseless and malicious, the BJP said the palace was returned to the Dholpur royal family in 1957 in exchange for other properties.
“In an out-of-court settlement with his son in 2007, Hemant Singh said the palace was his property which was later given to Dushyant,” Rajasthan BJP chief Parnami said, waving a bunch of court papers.
State health minister Rajendra Rathore, a Raje confidante, said Dholpur municipal council records also show Dushyant as the palace owner.
The palace was the latest in a series of Congress salvos against Raje since she got sucked into the Lalit Modi controversy in mid-June, following reports of helping the fallen cricket czar with his UK immigration papers and having business links with him.
The BJP continued to shield the embattled chief minister, running down the Congress’s demand for her resignation after finding her and Dushyant’s transactions with Lalit Modi legally clean.
“They have done no wrong. Everyone is asking for resignation without looking into the allegations and verifying the facts,” a BJP leader said, although admitting that the protracted controversy has dented the NDA government’s corruption-free image.
As the Congress kept taunting the Prime Minister over his silence on the Lalit Modi row, junior foreign minister VK Singh said Narendra Modi was not required to react to everything.